Planning for Reentry

Many organizations have issued guidance for school opening in the fall. Consistent themes across these plans include:

1. Social emotional learning (SEL) must be a priority. Considering a hierarchy of needs, when students are not meeting basic physical and psychological safety, they are less likely to succeed academically. This applies to staff as well in their ability to be productive and effective educators. 

2. Screening students and staff upon reentry is imperative to know who needs additional supports. This may take the form of student wellbeing and school climate surveys, focus groups, or phone calls to gather the data necessary to know the best way to address student and staff needs. Stress and trauma experiences and responses will vary greatly among students; some will have had fun during the pandemic, others will have been the focus of continued abuse. It's important to validate all experiences and provide extra counseling and resources to those who need it, be they student or staff.

3. Educational inequalities were not only exposed but exacerbated by remote learning. In the short term, schools must ensure ALL students are given the same educational opportunities by providing devices and internet hotspots for those who do not have access to technology or internet at home. In the long term, the educational inequalities that were present before COVID-19 elucidate that we cannot simply strive to return to the status quo; we must strive to do better by our students so that equity is not only a theoretical mission of schools, but an actionable one.

 

4.  Include students, families, and community stakeholders in planning and decision making. Often educational reform and school district policy are established by researchers and leaders that are not affected by the decisions they make. Elevating the voices of key stakeholders in the planning and decision-making process is crucial for the pursuit of equity and social justice in schools. 

5. Emphasize relationships and communication. Not only do schools and districts need to be coordinating with public health officials to ensure physical safety for students and staff, they also need to be sharing the established protocols with the community. Demonstrating firm expectations for sanitization, testing, protections for those at heightened risk, and procedures when a student or staff member is ill instills trust in families that it is safe to send their children to school. In the building, leadership must provide space for students and staff to share their experiences and feelings collectively. Building and strengthening relationships is of utmost importance.

 

For more detailed guidelines for reentry, find links to the originals and brief summaries of the reopening plans below.  

In likely the most applicable of the reopening plans for school counselors, ASCA provides guidance on several specific concerns regarding reopening. They emphasize the importance of a coordinated, multitiered system of supports when reentering as to avoid confusion and duplication of services. See the entire reopening plan linked above for further guidance.​

Addressing Social and Emotional Learning and Mental Health Needs:

  1. Establish a multidisciplinary team dedicated to planning for school reentry

  2. Establish a process to identify and support students and staff at higher risk of stress or trauma from COVID-19

  3. Don't assume students will voluntarily disclose their distress or want to talk immediately

  4. Consider impact of facial masks on social interaction, especially for ESL students and students with disabilities

  5. Schools may want to invest in squeeze/stress balls and masks for all students

Relationships and Transitions:

  1. Acknowledge lack of closure from previous year and establish social events for students/staff to re-connect (virtually if necessary)

  2. Provide extra supports to students transitioning to a new school given the unique circumstances

  3. Consider implementing peer-buddy or homeroom/advisory programs to help with school transitions and allow for check-ins before each school day

  4. Make extra efforts to welcome students to school each day; emphasize making students feel welcomed amidst health protocols

  5. Anticipate increased fatigue and sleepiness, reintroduce academic rigor more gradually 

Potential for Trauma:

  1. Recognize and address the potential for higher rates of adverse childhood experiences (ACES) and/or stressors during school closures and the underreporting of those stressors that may put students at higher risk of trauma

  2. Recognize and address stigma and racism that may occur as a result of COVID-19

Addressing Physical and Psychological Safety:

  1. Identify habits that ensure physical and psychological safety; clear understanding of safety measures reinforces psychological safety

  2. Define an expectation for using masks and other sanitation products; have plan for those who cannot wear them or refuse to 

  3. Develop a virtual wellness space that includes quotes, pictures, soothing music and videos, and information for where to seek additional sources of support

  4. The inability to see a medical professional due to distancing or lack of health insurance may lead to increased student visits to the nurse. Consider implementing virtual nurse visits and medical isolation for those at heightened risk

  5. Establish attendance and sanitation guidelines for COVID-19 related illness

Discipline:

  1. Students have had inconsistent behavior expectations for the past several months--reteach expectations explicitly and regularly

  2. Use a trauma-informed lens and culturally responsive practices for behavior and discipline.

  3. Focus on positive and effective discipline practices rather than punitive responses that force student to leave the school environment

 

Addressing Staff Needs:

  1. Establish systemwide approaches to address secondary traumatic stress and compassion fatigue

  2. Self-care should become part of the school culture and not be the sole responsibility of individual staff

  3. Ensure staff are aware of district's employee wellness benefits and work with HR to understand procedures for sick leave due to COVID-19

 

Family Engagement:

  1. Ensure efforts to engage and communicate with families are culturally sensitive and information sent home is available in the home's primary language. 

  2. Work with families to understand their concerns regarding student needs and ways to collaborate to support successful reentry plans and attendance policies

  3. Work with families to identify who needs assistance with food, clothing, and other needs

Access to School Mental Health Professionals and School Nurses:

  1. Ensure at minimum a maintenance of existing positions and aspire to national recommendations

  2. Connect with community providers as needed to address gaps

CASEL's emphasis on social emotional learning is of particular use and importance as schools plan for reentry. In their guide for reopening, they provide quick checklists for schools and staff to better understand what they can be doing to best support students and staff in the transition back to school.

  1. Take time to build partnerships, deepen your understanding, and plan for SEL.

    • Communicate widely and consistently that SEL is foundational to the holistic success of your school and community​

    • Build transition teams that include and elevate voices and perspectives of students, families, educators, and other adults to develop responsive transition plans

    • Examine where SEL efforts have been impactful and where more support is needed—track who has received what and what outcome

  2. Design opportunities for adults to connect, heal and cultivate their own SEL competencies and capacities.

    • Allow space for connection, listening, and healing among all leaders and staff in the school building

    • Engage staff in reflecting on what they’ve learned from the past few months and how this experience will shape the future

    • Provide professional development to build educators’ capacity to support students’ SEL

    • Ensure access to mental health and trauma support for adults

  3. Create emotionally and physically safe, supportive, and engaging learning environments that promote all students’ social and emotional development.

    • Intentionally build structures that promote supportive adult-student relationships and a sense of belonging—ensure every student has at least one caring adult at the school who checks in on them regularly and whom they can reach out to

    • Weave in opportunities for students to practice and reflect upon social and emotional competencies throughout the day

    • Engage students in developmentally appropriate conversations and lessons to discuss past, current, and future impacts of the pandemic on themselves, their families, their communities, and the broader world

  4. Use data as an opportunity to deepen relationships and continuously improve support for students, families, and staff.​

    • Engage staff, students and families in sharing ongoing feedback through climate surveys, focus groups, phone calls, etc. and partnering in identifying and addressing inequities and challenges, and building upon successes for continuous improvement

    • Collect and act on data around students who are disengaged or chronically absent

Aspen Institute's focus on equity and education reform is especially salient for the country's return to schooling. Their message being: How we choose to respond will determine whether young people and families rebound or fall further behind. This response should be guided by five principles outlined briefly below. For their entire guide for reopening, see the link above.

  1. Ensure equity and engagement

    • Equity is about providing resources relative to need

      • Food insecurity—ensure access to free and subsidized meals

      • Have plan to address digital divide

      • Stress and trauma are not distributed evenly—low income and students of color bearing the brunt of it

    • Remote learning allows for abuse and neglect to go relatively unnoticed

    • Must include parents and students most affected by COVID-19 in conversations about reopening as solutions that are effective and advance equity are highly context-specific

  2. Take a holistic view to set a coherent strategy

    • Coordinating state and local guidelines so schools aren’t left to sort out conflicting rules and confusion

    • Include youth-serving community orgs to support youth development and avoid duplication of services

  3. Ground the Work in the Science of Learning

    • Four findings for supporting students during school closures and re-engaging students (and faculty) when buildings are able to re-open:

      1. Student safety, belonging and connectedness to school are foundational to resilience and engagement that enable academic success and thriving in life--hierarchy of needs

      2. ​School quality measures need to count school climate and schools’ ability to get students to show up, work hard, and engage with peers. Need to improve student work habits and social skills to see growth in academic areas as well.

      3. Need to treat adolescents as emerging adults rather than older children by providing authentic, developmental experiences and entry into the world through community service and internships/apprenticeships, ideally those that create social capital and lead to living-wage work when completed. 

      4. Need to be able to assess and address increases in stress and trauma due to pandemic

  4. Take a long-term view of student success

    • Reassess what education outcomes are most important for students to become thriving adults and contributing members of society. Re-think purpose of education and re-orient to the future

  5. Embed an Innovation and Learning Agenda

    • Must track what is being tried in education—looking not only at success but at failures as well

    • Need to engage educators, students, and families as participant-researchers to work with scholars to create new insights

​The American Enterprise Institute provides specific considerations for when schools reopen. They emphasize the importance of being prepared for a return to remote learning and encourage schools to consider the heightened needs of students as they return to school.

  1. ​Four broad considerations

    1. Coordination

      • With public health organizations and community agencies

    2. Communication

      • Careful and diligent communication with parents, students, educators, and community members. Must instill confidence in measures in place. Because schools will open with significant modifications to schedules, classes, or logistics, minimizing chaos and confusion depends on clear and consistent communication

    3. Regulatory flexibility​

    4. Privacy protection

      • Federal and state governments should provide guidance that privacy laws, FERPA, HIPAA, etc., will not prohibit coordination between schools and health officials​​

  2. Whole Student Supports

    • SEL Supports

      • Use needs assessment for students and faculty to understand full range of needs

      • Provide SEL programming and consider timelines to return to extracurricular and athletic programs

    • Mental Health Supports

      • Counseling supports must be ready for students returning with heightened depression and anxiety from isolation and for those with trauma from loss of friends, family members, abuse, neglect, economic hardship, etc.

      • Officials consider increasing mental health practitioners in schools and take advantage of new regulatory flexibility for telemedicine to expand access to counseling services

  3. Academics​

    • Special needs and ESL students will need accommodations and additional support—plan for now in case of return to closure

    • Test remote learning systems and procedures like schools test fire drills, before they are needed

    • Need to make adjustments so that classrooms and hallways aren’t filled

    • ​Base student progression on mastery of competency rather than seat time

    • ​Distance Learning
      • Home connectivity—all students should have device and access needed to school instruction, especially for those low-income and rural students; devices and internet hot spots must be provided and tech help for teachers should be responsive

Strive not to return to normal, but to be better. Before pandemic, many students were not being served well and COVID-19 exposed the existing inequities. School leaders and community must rise up to meet the challenge of educating and supporting ALL students effectively.

The CDC has crafted a school decision tool to help leadership decide whether their school is ready to reopen. 

1. Be prepared to protect children and employees at higher risk for illness

2. Ensure recommended health and safety actions are in place:​

  • Hand washing and mask wearing

  • Intensified disinfection and ventilation

  • Methods for social distancing

3. Ensure ongoing monitoring is in place:

  • Check students and staff daily upon arrival for symptoms/signs

  • Encourage the sick to stay home and have place in place for when staff/students are sick including at home learning and flexible leave policies/practices

  • Be communicative with local authorities about cases and developments

Additional Resources

The New Jersey School Counselor and SAC Collaborative offered a webinar addressing school counseling planning for reentry, taking into account the multiple modalities and unknowns. A specific range of topics that are in response to the pandemic, mental health, and anti-racism are discussed, as well as topics and resources that can also be developed into specific webinars for you in the event you are tasked with professional development and wellness for your staff. The webinar, slides, and additional resources can be found at the link below. The webinar content begins at minute 13:20. 

Planning for Reentry: A Guide for School Counselors to Deliver an Equitable and Trauma Informed Counseling Program

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